Grace, Gratitude & Optimal Digestion
Having grown up in Venezuela, I never celebrated Thanksgiving on a regular basis. I’ve only come to truly celebrate and appreciate Thanksgiving since moving to the US twelve years ago. I have to say it is one of my favorite holidays and I especially appreciate the secular aspect of it. Everyone can give thanks and connect with gratitude regardless of spiritual beliefs.
What we often miss in the hustle and bustle of the Thanksgiving meal is the spirit of the holiday itself. In many cases, the holiday ends up being a gorge-fest, after which people swear off eating for a week. They reach for Tums and Mylanta when two hours after the meal, their food is still feeling quite undigested and the heartburn is creeping up.
Digestion would be better if we stopped to give thanks.
What does giving thanks have to do with digestion?
In teaching people how to eat with awareness (and personally striving to do the best I can) I’ve realized that stopping to say grace and connecting with feelings of appreciation for your food is one of the most powerful things you can do to set yourself for optimal digestion.
Breathing deeply, taking things slowly, smiling and feeling grateful are ONLY possible when your nervous system is in the “rest and digest” state. This is the state that is the exact opposite of “fight or flight.” Fight-fligh is the stress response. It’s the rushed, fast-talking, fast-moving pace with which we live the majority of our modern lives. When you sit down to eat without consciously stopping and slowing down, your nervous system doesn’t truly get a chance to exit fight-flight and enter rest-and-digest.
Follow these steps at you next meal, as if you were sitting down for Thanksgiving dinner:
- Breathe… smell…. Before taking a single bite or grabbing your utensils, sit with your plate in front of you. Breathe in deeply and smell your food. Look at the colors and the composition. Admire it as if it were a work of art.
- Smile… Smile and see if you can connect with the feeling of gratitude for the fact that this food will give you health. That this food will become your blood cells and bone; your eye cells and tastebuds; your skin and your sex hormones…
- Be grateful… Feel the gratitude for actually having food.
- Appreciate…. who might have been involved in providing this food for you? What might it have meant for them? What is the circle of life that is culminating on your plate to give life to you?
- Savor… Breathe in deeply again and with this feeling of reverence, taste your food. Savor it.
- Chew…. slowly and thoroughly, and as you chew, set your utensils down so you can stay present with your mouthful instead of prepping the next one you’ll shovel in.
- Pause… Eat slowly; pause during your meal and notice how you feel. Stop eating when the taste and experience of the food starts shifting and you notice that it’s not as pleasurable as the first bite.
This process of eating with awareness turns your nervous system’s full attention towards your digestive system. Your stomach, liver, pancreas and intestines will work at their best. Your digestive juices will flow and things will move effortlessly. Also, when you eat with this level of awareness, you are less likely to overeat.
I also believe that your tastebuds awaken when you turn your attention squarely towards your food.
This Thanksgiving, I invite you to stop before your meal; give thanks for the infinite blessings of the friends and family in your life and the blessings of life-giving food. Eat with awareness and notice what your body feels.